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Sherri Richards, Published September 27 2009

Event turns Fort Ransom into small city

Cars line up on Walt Hjelle Parkway, the main road into town. Yellow vested volunteers direct traffic into grassy parking lots near the Sheyenne River.

For one weekend each year, thousands of visitors descend on Fort Ransom, a town with fewer than 100 residents. They come for arts, crafts and food.

The Sheyenne Valley Arts and Crafts Association Fall Festival is held here the last weekend in September, typically drawing between 8,000 and 10,000 people, said coordinator Lori Carlson.

“We just become a city for two days,” Carlson said. “I’m always amazed at the change in the town, all the white tents.”

More than 150 exhibitors are strewn across town. Wagons pulled by vintage John Deere and Minneapolis Moline tractors shuttle people between their cars and the clusters of tents. Woodworkers, photographers, jewelry makers and other artists sell their wares.

Roy Riehl, a Raleigh, N.D., makes cowboy rope art and goes to four shows a year, including the one in Fort Ransom. It’s a good show, he says.

“I think it’s the people that are here that are very friendly and very helpful and work together really well to bring a really good show here,” Riehl said.

It takes a lot of volunteers to put the festival on, Carlson said. Everybody in town has three or four jobs.

David Paetz stamped visitors’ hands as they paid the $2 admission fee. In past years, he’s driven tractor and sold tickets.

He said the event means a lot to the town.

“It means a lot in revenue, and even more than that, it means a lot for people to get together,” he said. “People look forward to this months in advance. I don’t think it’s for the things they buy.”

Ann Zaun of Fargo knew about the festival for years, having grown up in nearby Valley City, N.D., but came for the first time last year. It’s become an annual ritual.

“It’s fall. It’s beautiful. The drive is scenic. It’s one last fling before winter,” she says.

Ruth Buchholz of Lisbon, N.D., says she’s come to the show for as long as it’s been around. She’s worn winter coats and gloves some years and been rained on others.

“It’s kind of like Christmas. It comes every year, so you go,” she says.

This year, Buchholz shopped with two of her sisters, Joyce Roepke of Cokato, Minn., and Linda Kunerth, who lives south of Orlando, Fla.

“I think they have the most interesting things in one spot, the variety,” Kunerth said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556

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